Do or do not. There is no try.
I recently responded to a student tweet with the above quotation. The student had mentioned something they were hoping to (would ‘try to’) do over the next week or so. I can’t remember who the student was, or what exactly they were aspiring to create – it could have been a blog, a Periscope broadcast, or something else. That doesn’t really matter now, but the brief exchange reinforced the need for me to wrap up the units I’m currently teaching with a simple and single message. I’ll come back to what that message is, but first I wanted to share a brief story…
Many years ago, when I was completing my own studies Deakin Uni in Geelong, I lived with my maltese-shitzu companion Tiffany in the suburb of Grovedale. One day I made myself some lunch: two bagels, heaped with fillings – one of my favourites at the time. Just when I was about to start eating, a neighbour from across the street knocked on my door asking for some help with their computer. So I left the plate of bagels on a coffee table in front of the couch and ducked out of the house for twenty minutes. When I came back, only half a bagel and no fillings were left.
Tiffany, who had already eaten a decent-sized meal an hour or two beforehand, had jumped up on the sofa, somehow transferred the food from the coffee table, and was now too full to be physically able to get down from the couch. I was probably a bit worried, and thankfully she was okay, but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t help myself from laughing as well. I don’t tell that story here to encourage excessive eating or criminal theft, but that story has come to mind a few times lately and I keep thinking about how instinctive – how instantaneous – Tiff’s ‘decision’ to eat the bagel must have been. Careful consideration is often very important, but sometimes thinking (or, more accurately, thinking up excuses) can get in the way of just doing something.
The message I was talking about earlier is, of course, about being active online. Consciously or otherwise, I’m always looking for new ways to convey this point to students. I would love to be able to say ‘Just do it’, but Nike’s stuffed that phrase for all time. I include the hashtag #BeActive from time to time in my tweets, though this isn’t a particularly effective one given its widespread use.
Even when I took a break from work to go to Point Nepean earlier this year, I’m sure I knew at the time that many of the photographs and videos I shot of the amazing scenery there would find their way into my teaching materials. Sure enough, this databank of footage came in very handy for at least a couple of YouTube videos I’ve made since. However, not everything I did that day proved to be 100% useful. When standing in the centre of an old military fortification on the coast, I instinctively used its sound dynamic to experiment with a new way to communicate my key message…
As it turned out, this unplanned endeavour didn’t work. I realised too late that I should have yelled ‘Be active!’ rather than ‘Get to work!’, which seemed too harsh in its delivery. Further, my phone didn’t capture the actual ‘surround sound’ echo created by the structure well enough. So I never used that footage – until now, when I could give it some fuller context – but at least I tried it out.
The crucial importance for my students of making and sharing media, networking widely, and being a life-long learner in an increasingly competitive world is constantly reinforced in my mind at every turn. Over the past week, I participated in two industry forums, speaking at The Content Safari convened by ArkGroup Australia in Sydney and attending the Victorian PR, Media and Communication Student Forum in Melbourne. The former event revealed how the crises of engagement are encountered by practitioners in any industry, while the latter forum reminded me that those graduates who respond proactively to the demands society places on them invariably succeed.
Making blogs, videos, podcasts, infographics, vines, prezis, and/or whatever is not just about building a dynamic portfolio to land a great (or any) job one day; it’s to keep students consistently exploring, discovering, and learning. Amidst all the world’s distractions, developing a habit of learning by doing is by far the best way to stay motivated and stand out from the crowd. I found myself blogging directly or indirectly about the theme of motivation a lot over the past several months. Whether I was writing (and making media) about student agency and education, content production and recyclability, getting things wrong, or the relationship between motivation and reward, that key message of ‘be active’ was always there in the background.
For most students who I’ve come into contact with over the past year, we will now part ways. Students will move forward to further study, internships, job applications, or in some cases progressing in their current careers. I will loop around to repeat my teaching of units that those students have now completed (circle of educational life?). Some will continue to stay in touch in one form or another, perhaps through the KAOSmedia initiative – the latest means by which students might continue to propel themselves – and each other – to be active online. In any case, I wish them all well and hope that they’ve not only learnt something about media-making and collaboration from their studies, but that they have – perhaps more importantly – learnt something about themselves and their future directions.
The following clip from the very end of the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading (2008) might not seem on the surface to be the ideal video with which to leave students, and not only because it has some colourful language in it (warning given, play at your own risk!). However, the process of self-reflection undertaken by the two characters onscreen is something that students must also now engage in – and continue to do so at frequent intervals in the months and years to come.
Of course, I would like to think – or at least hope – that such a conversation wouldn’t follow after being subjected to a learning environment that I’ve designed and facilitated. But from my perspective, what would worry me most is not if students said ‘I don’t know what we learnt’ or ‘I don’t know what we did’, but if they said ‘I guess we learned not to do it again‘. When it comes to media-making, that’s the scariest option to choose, and the most self-destructive, because students can no longer afford to not do it again… Those who are truly open to the possibilities of the online world, and fully engage with those possibilities, tend to enjoy it anyway – and want to do it again. A lack of motivation can still be an obstacle to navigate though.
The units that are now coming to a close placed great emphasis on student agency, with the cohorts developing much of the unit content through blogging and other forms of media-making rather than simply being ‘spoonfed’ information to consume. Students were required to be active on multiple platforms; many enhanced their online presence, network, and identity in highly valuable ways. From deciding how often to blog, to choosing what topics to blog about, there was much freedom to be had.
At the beginning of the trimester, I stressed the somewhat corny line ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ (it’s obviously not corny here because I’m using a picture). It’s not an easy thing to be given power, particularly in contexts – like the education system – where you are accustomed to having control exerted over you. But when one is unleashed and finds oneself outside that system of control, that’s where the real creativity and initiative has to kick in. No longer surrounded by the customary structure that has shielded us from the elements, everyone is exposed… and only some will be ready. So before I get too philosophical, I’ll end with this:
Watch out for the opportunities that are lurking around the corner.
Put yourself in a position to take advantage of luck.
Eat the bagel.
Sometimes things can go wrong, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be right too.
I’ve been thinking for a while now about compiling all of the bloopers from teaching videos I’ve made since 2013 into one collection. There are precious few usable stuff-ups that I haven’t put online in some form anyway. Such things can add entertainment value to the final product, but that’s only part of it. In an indirect way, imperfection may enhance user engagement with one’s content. As I’ve argued for a few years now (see this earlier video, for example), the perceived – and therefore real – authenticity of the amateur-professional, impacted by YouTube culture, the ‘selfie moment’, and so on, can have a great deal of power.
A tweet sent out by a student Isaac Wyatt earlier today shared some content that again highlighted how students can inspire the teacher as much as vice versa. Watching the following video by The School of Life not only reinforced the need for me to blog about the usefulenss of showcasing imperfection, but also seems crucial to include in this post:
I’ve labelled myself a ‘perfectionist’ for a long time, and I’ve even had one or two of my past teachers point out this burden for me. I still struggle with its symptoms every now and then; probably always will. Perhaps somewhat ironically, experimenting with more ‘risky’ live broadcasting media like Periscope, which diminishes the control and comfort a video editing program offers, has helped me ease the pressure I often put on myself when on camera.
Striving for excellence
can be is a good thing, but when it becomes an obstacle to trying to do something – or actually getting that something done once you’ve started – then you’ve got a problem. I stressed in a previous post that didn’t consider the problem of perfectionism that nothing is a waste of time except doing nothing. Following on from this, it’s therefore important not to become consumed with one’s finesse to the point of inactivity. Indeed, in areas in which the exact nature of ‘perfect’ plunges into murky waters (if it’s ever crystal clear?) perfectionism can become immensely counter-productive. When making online media, perhaps the best approach is to embrace the error in what so often involves a process of ‘trial and error’ and see the value in it.
While I don’t disagree with anything in the The School of Life’s video, my own take on the value of getting things wrong differs somewhat from the perspective it offers. The video positions the ‘legitimate and necessary role of failure’ as a means to an end, and this is often the case; however, the role and value of failure might be expanded from this alone. Contemporary media culture has in many ways provided a means for ‘failure’ to be an end in itself. Getting things wrong can have real value, particularly when one wants to construct a less than 100% serious online persona.
I see this strategic manipulation of one’s identity being negotiated by students from time to time. Exposed mistakes don’t necessarily result in damage to reputation – they may even enhance it (and I’m semi-surprised we don’t see this kind of thing being played with by organisations more often). Sometimes errors can become assets, depending on how they’re edited, framed, and disseminated, as another student tweet reveals:
I remember one of the first times I started to really think about this was when I saw a board game video by Tom Vasel, founder of The Dice Tower, which saw him actually use a few stumbling moments at the beginning of his video rather than at the end as is generally the convention. I sadly can’t find this clip now (his YouTube productivity is astounding), but a quick search revealed something else I fully expected to find: he also dedicates some videos to bloopers alone. But that one instance of Vasel opening with a stuff-up or two has stayed with me, because it was different. It stood out. A separate blooper video in itself probably no longer signifies as innovative for many people, but it’s my first one so is at least a little bit different in the context of my playlists. Feel free to have a look at the necessary ‘failure’ involved in my work…
All this is not to say that one should broadcast every failure and imperfection out there for the world to see. My reactions to my own mistakes are not always ones I’d want to share publicly – too much visible impatience and profanity can diminish anyone’s reputation. On the other hand, if nothing else (and I hope I’ve convinced you that there is something else to this), keeping and displaying stuff-ups strategically can be a valuable way to showcase to others that making that content involved having fun. Even more than this, doing so can serve as a reminder to ourselves of that enjoyment, and motivate the making of more content.
Putting together the above video felt like I was doing something for myself just as much as I was doing it for anyone else. It’s for a similar reason that I still keep bloopers from videos I made with my brother in high school, and I watch those muck-ups even more than I do the ‘real deal’. Maybe one day I’ll publish those too…
Maybe, just maybe, that footage is actually what captured true perfection.
Well, I guess this may have grabbed your attention…
These days, it seems that movie trailers are getting longer and longer, and as a result showing more and more of a film’s action, jokes, and even major plot points – yes, I’m looking at you Batman vs. Superman! In a sense, that oft-repeated and parodied ‘This is Sparta!!’ moment resonates as emblematic of the present’s addiction to getting the message up front: blaring loudly and proudly right into your face; giving away all the answers before any questions can be asked. I wonder whether for some people the negative connotations of ‘spoiler’ are there at all?
A teaser is never enough anymore. It’s almost like we’re going back to a time when some trailers essentially gave away all of a film to the point where you had to consciously turn away to get any surprises. Just to take one example, the trailer to one of my child favourites Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) takes you step-by-step through every major scene from start to finish. Seriously, if you haven’t seen this film – or haven’t seen it in a while and have been meaning to re-visit the brilliance of the late Gene Wilder – do not watch this trailer!!
So why am I talking about this?
Well, recently I was inspired by the marketing for a movie called The Matrix, which was first screened in 1999 – a huge year of big movie releases. Most young people today won’t be aware of this, but the use of mystery in the ‘What is the Matrix?’ campaign was highly successful. That year, I was (mistakenly) more interested in the upcoming Star Wars Episode I prequel to care much about whatever this ‘matrix’ thing was, but I still remember the campaign, which says enough in itself – even if the whatisthematrix.com site has long been taken down, it was very powerful.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been promoting an initiative I’ve co-developed with PR Lecturer Ross Monaghan called ‘KAOS’. I took advantage of some superhero visitors to Deakin University’s Open Day, as well as my partner’s long hair, to make a few ‘What is KAOS?’ videos to tweet out to my students. Now, what I did here is nothing like the above example in quality or effect, but I did want to play around a bit to see if mystery still had its place.
I didn’t end up doing as many vignettes as I planned to, but student responses I received on and off Twitter suggested that raising a question rather than simply saying something in a straightforward way continues to hold some weight – if only because it’s not done often enough. With mystery a key element of games – and, as a result, gamification – I’ll no doubt be looking more into this theme as time goes by. What will come of it, of course, remains a mystery.
And if I’ve piqued your curiosity enough with the question I’ve asked over the last few weeks, feel free to watch the video below to find out the answer…
If Tiff worked it out all by herself, then…
I’ve been thinking a lot about online etiquette lately, and with that came thoughts of writing about it here. The inspiration didn’t arise from the absence of a grateful reply to an email I’d sent a colleague providing advice they’d asked for. And it didn’t come from the very confusing lack of follow-up contact by a well-known overseas professor who’d approached me regarding a research proposition he had. It certainly didn’t come from the constant stream of astonishing – or perhaps not-so-surprising – stories of everything from cyberbullying in various contexts to Donald Trump’s online behaviour (which, as it happens, often involves cyberbullying).
In truth, I’m not sure what started me off on the path to writing this blog several weeks ago. Yet with my students engaging in all sorts of collaborative online activity at the moment (which will eventually involve reflecting critically on those interactions as part of their formal assessment), it now seems like an ideal time to consider the subject. This is not to suggest that these students are in any way deficient in this area – I’ve found that students actively working together on Twitter and other media are with very few exceptions far more collegial than most other groups.
Nonetheless, for many the experience of collaborating via a virtual meetup using Skype or Google Hangouts will be a brand new experience that comes with both expected and unexpected challenges. I only just started facilitating student learning with Hangouts myself this year, which involves not only the odd technical issue (such as when I myself dropped out of a conversation) but also the question of how to ensure everyone in a video conference has an opportunity to contribute. This kind of scenario is humorously dramatised – albeit in a highly exagerrated form – in the following video clip from Tripp and Tyler:
And if you enjoyed that, you might also like to check out the sequel ‘A Video Conference Call in Real Life.’ As these skits reveal, a conglomeration of problems – many of them related to etiquette – can arise in learning or workplace scenarios like this. (As an aside, it’s worth noting that there is a crucial overlap in these contexts when education is industry-relevant!)
On a broader level, the simple act of acknowledging someone can be key to productive online behaviours and interactions in so many different ways, as I gestured to in the tweet below:
I no doubt miss a comment every now and then, but the principle still stands. Returning to the title of this blog post, it often seems far too easy to forget the ‘social’ in social media. I’m sure there are circumstances where this kind of etiquette doesn’t apply, but I’m yet to personally meet anyone like Ricky Gervais who could justify ignoring what are likely to be hundreds of daily requests from animal welfare activists and other fans contacting him on Twitter alone – although it should be noted that even Gervais goes to great lengths to acknowledge, interact, and engage in spite of his expansive following.
I was raised to always be polite, but I also don’t think I’m obsessed with manners. The ‘Manners Maketh Man’ motto spoken by the protagonists of the film Kingsman I watched last night is as absurd as it is gendered. But at the same time, manners are important. The transition from interpersonal to virtual communication changes nothing about this, even though I’ve witnessed some stunning instances over the years when people have sent emails and similar in ways that utterly fail to comprehend that such messages should be composed as if they were being delivered face-to-face. When you’re behaving ethically in the online world, good manners seem to me to be almost always pretty common sense. Nonetheless, as some of the examples I’ve pointed to above highlight, negotiating online etiquette frequently involves far more nuanced issues than simply whether or not you should be disgustingly rude to someone else.
In other words: just because you’re not being outright offensive, doesn’t mean you’re doing it right.
Graduates not only need to be able to make things; they need to be able to think critically as well.
A few days ago I was sitting on a Course Review panel chatting to an industry practitioner who co-founded an innovative creative agency based in Melbourne. The company does a lot of digital production and marketing work, among other things, and exemplifies the kind of organisation that many students I teach would love to one day work for. The above ‘quotation’ isn’t word-for-word what this tech-savvy practitioner told me, but it does capture the essense of a key point he made. When studying contemporary media, navigating – or better yet, exploiting – the intersection between critical thinking and creative practive is key.
Engaging with peer-reviewed scholarship is one important way in which students can demonstrate critical and analytical ability. All through my undergraduate (and, for that matter, postgraduate) studies, it was never once suggested to me that the product of reading, interpreting, and applying theoretical ideas from monographs, edited collections, and journal articles could take any other form than a direct quotation or paraphrased statement in an essay. This is certainly one strategy by which a critical understanding of scholarly sources can be demonstrated, but not the only one.
When I think back to the early 2000s, I’m probably fortunate my brick-like mobile phone had essentially none of the distractions that might have hindered the writing of all those essays – let alone the reading of the books and articles that informed them. Now, with the emergence of media forms like the video essay and the increasing use of blogs and other online media for student assessment, the ways in which scholarship might be used (by academics and students alike) will only multiply as a matter of course. In fact, I can see a time, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, where the nature and form(s) of peer-reviewed scholarship gets a seriously expansive makeover – but that’s not the key issue I’m concerned with here. The main point of this blog is to question the ‘mainstream’ practice of engaging with scholarly source material by replicating the mode that this source material invariably exists in.
I recently put together some brief reflections in a podcast about the possibile inclusion of scholarship in audio form (which, setting aside the sometimes more intimidating process of recording and editing a podcast, isn’t necessarily all that different from the conventional in-class oral presentation). What I thought I’d focus on here is the potentialities of the audio-visual form, given that particularly complex and nuanced meanings can be conveyed in short videos – even those of between thirty seconds and a minute in length.
The accessibility of user-friendly video editing programs that can be downloaded (often for free) on computers, tablets, and phones attests to the many avenues of creative media-making that were simply unavailable to students not so long ago. The smooth functionality of iMovie is just one example of a program that can take just a few short hours to get your head around the fundamentals and start producing some outstanding video clips with. The different ways in which a short video can be used to define/explore a concept or theory, and articulate/enhance an argument are endless, so I’ll be anything but comprehensive here. Nonetheless, I thought a few examples might help illustrate what I’m getting at…
Let’s just start with a ‘simple’ Vine, which despite its short length actually requires a good deal of discipline and focus in order to get any kind of ‘message’ across within a limited timeframe of six seconds. If I was to introduce, contextualise, and use a short quotation in the following way, there would be nothing wrong with it…
In their discussion of contemporary dataveillance, Lemi Baruh and Leven Soysal (2010, p. 399) write that the ‘public intimacy’ promoted by, and practised within, social media sites has led to a deeply troubling ‘new regime of surveillance.’
But could I enhance the point I’m making here by complementing (not replacing) the line with a brief audio-visual text that reiterates the statement as a question?
Taking things to the next level, incorporating an engagement with scholarship into a slightly longer video opens up many more opportunities for both expanding on content in a substantial way while simultaneously demonstrating creative skills. Speaking to the camera is one option, of course, as in the example below:
Talking directly to one’s audience and not distracting them with a reliance on notes – or even something as small as the glare of a monitor on reading glasses – is not always an easy task. The image on the right reveals that even when a performance is scripted and rehearsed, there can be multiple takes involved (and not only because a maltese-shitzu is tapping on the floorboards or scratching at the door). Talking head footage is a highly valuable means of conveying information in a more ‘personal’ and perhaps even ‘authoritative’ manner, but extended reflections sometimes mean that overlaying visual material at strategic moments can make life a lot easier.
I was lucky in this case that one of my other Twitter personalities stepped in to strategically manipulate the footage I’d originally put together by using (part of) the same audio in an arguably more engaging way than the initial video did. This underlines a fundamental point about getting practical with media that I’ve made many times in blog posts and videos: when you are creative with media, things happen – often unexpected things, but always valuable things that you learn something new from (even if it’s because something went wrong). As with filmmaking generally, you don’t always know what you’ve got until you get it!
My canine companion Tiffany also wanted to chip in an example of a video that focuses on the concept of ‘social sorting’ (Tiff made me create the video, of course, but it was her idea). Including a brief intro sequence, Creative Commons music, custom-shot footage, snappy editing, transitions, a video thumbnail, and so on, might seem extravagant for a short video, but when you get used to the process it doesn’t take endless hours to put together. Making the one-minute video below probably took between one-and-a-half and two hours in total (including everything from scripting to finding source material to filming to editing to uploading). What do you think? Should I have just written the voiceover down as a paragraph and saved myself some time? Or is it more engaging this way?
You might not believe the teacher, but I’m sure you’ll agree with Tiff…
In making the above points and examples, I am by no means implying that writing style and skill are no longer important – they are!! The likelihood of turning off – and therefore turning away – a reader due to typographical errors is perhaps even stronger in the context of a blog than it is via the printed page. Nonetheless, it’s clear that incorporating dynamic audio and audio-visual media content within and alongside written material can vastly enhance the overall product. After all, would you have been as interested in working through this blog post if it comprised writing alone? So to sum it all up: don’t forget the power of making media, even when you are engaging with scholarly sources that might on the surface seem to lend themselves to anything but a creative endeavour.
Being able to think critically is critical, but you can also demonstrate this by being creative!!
Music used in Social Sorting video
Images used in videos
Baruh, L and Soysal, L 2010, ‘Public intimacy and the new face (book) of surveillance: the role of social media in shaping contemporary dataveillance’, in Dumova, T and Fiordo, R (eds.), Handbook of Research on Social Interaction Technologies and Collaboration Software: Concepts and Trends, Information Science Reference, Hershey, pp. 392-403.
Kimber, M 2012, ‘Blogging the 2009 Queensland state election’, Media International Australia, no. 145, pp. 75-83.
Lyon, D 2003, Surveillance as Social Sorting: Privacy, Risk, and Digital Discrimination, Routledge, London and New York.
Moyo, L 2009, ‘Digital democracy: enhancing the public sphere’, in Creeber, G and Martin, R (eds.), Digital Cultures: Understanding New Media, Open University Press, Maidenhead, pp. 139-50.
Nothing you ever read or watch or listen to is a waste of time.
That was the seldom-spoken personal philosophy I lived by as a literature and history student in my undergraduate years – and probably before university too. I was a voracious reader and viewer from an early age; I would constantly devour a book or film of almost any kind. It’s common sense really that you always take something – learn something – from everything you expose yourself to. It’s never a waste of time.
I still hold to that, but the maxim’s now expanded to include nothing you ever make is a waste of time either. Consuming and creating texts often go hand-in-hand, and the rise of terms like ‘viewser’ and ‘prosumer’ signal a blurring of the two. But ‘consuming’ in the conventional sense is not creating, and the process of actually making media – from a tweet to a blog to a video – offers innumerable lessons that simply can’t be learnt by the distant, passive observer.
Amidst reading and watching I wrote a lot of stories and poems, and my passion for making videos started as early as Year 10, when my brother and I would escape oral presentations by making short films together and screening them in class. Well over a decade would pass before I made a single video after Year 12, but I have no doubt that many of the lessons from which I’ve benefited so much came from those early years when we played around with our school library’s huge camera and sat up all night with two VCRs to edit the amateur footage we’d shot.
Admittedly editing is still often the most arduous and time-consuming stage of filmmaking, but when compared with today’s accessible programs, editing back then was immensely painful and imperfect. We’d shoot some very long takes just to make things manageable, and there would inevitably be a number of bloopers to edit out no matter how carefully we’d plan, script, and rehearse. On the other hand, being creative with media can bring rewards that could never have been predicted. You might unearth a new idea or way of doing things that ends up enhancing the original concept – or something might just happen that you simply can’t leave out of the final product, as we discovered in the video below:
Most of the time, unplanned footage can’t be used – at least not in the way in which you intended – but it’s still there, waiting for the day that you really need it. Such footage can be repurposed to make a point for which it might not have been designed, but for which it’s very well suited. I see this kind of thing from time to time exemplified in the work of students who not only make media, but also share it – highlighting the #LearnByDoing mantra that all media students should live by…
The key point here is the more you make, the more you learn. But the bonus element of all this is that you also build a constantly-growing databank of material that you can draw on in future – whether this is in a few weeks, or several years down the track. In other words, the more active you are, the better resourced you are for what you might need to get done. If you’ve been busy making things all along, that activity will (possibly without you even knowing) inform your later activity – sometimes indirectly; sometimes directly, like finding a Vine made four months ago that articulates a point you’re trying to make…
Beyond being a more engaging means of communicating an idea providing words alone, another fundamental aspect of creativity is – it’s fun! That in itself is not a point to be glossed over. As Danielle Teychenne said when I first made a video with her in 2015:
People say you can’t have fun when you’re learning because you’re not taking it seriously. But you absolutely can have fun!
The perpetual value of media-making I’ve been talking about here is also related to the crucial concept of recyclability, which I made a video about earlier this year. So in continuing the trend in this blog of using media I made long ago without any idea of the value it would later have, here’s a video I made earlier, which is made up of some other videos I’d made earlier… Dizzy yet?
To return to the point with which I started, hopefully the above examples – spanning seventeen years in total – have persuaded you that nothing is ever a waste of time…
Except doing nothing.
When I was young, my Dad would encourage my brother Luke and I to work out with him in the shed every week… almost every week… I think.
When he could get us to do it anyway.
Two decades have passed and my memories have blurred, but I distinctly remember feelings of both annoyed reluctance and genuine motivation in connection to this routine of ours. I didn’t always want to do it, but I also enjoyed doing it – when, that is, Luke and I actually pushed ourselves out of the house to actually do it. Perhaps fitness and family bonding had something to do with why Dad was so enthused to see us exercise to a greater degree than we did with our Nintendo controllers. Maybe even masculine identity-building was part of it – if so, it failed miserably (see the above image). But the only clear recollection I have of my father’s own explanation of the routine was that working out is what had taught him ‘discipline’. He didn’t mean discipline in the sense that a parent might usually evoke the term; he meant motivation.
In order for us to learn how to be motivated, of course, Dad would have to motivate us. At that time in our lives, Luke and I collected Spiderman and X-Men collector cards respectively. Yep, we were that cool. Whenever we agreed/consented/capitulated to train in the shed, Dad would buy us a pack of said cards each. I hope this didn’t go on for too long, because it would have cost a fortune and I’m starting to feel guilty, but it worked. This is easily the earliest memory I have of learning the relationship between motivation and reward – the subject that concerns me in this blog.
Ever since those packs of cards, I’ve frequently used rewards to motivate myself – whether it’s hiring a movie, spending an hour on the Xbox, or setting aside the time for some very minor thing that I now no longer remember. It hasn’t always worked; I often get distracted, lazy, apathetic. I’ve sometimes cheated and given myself the reward anyway. These days I’m using Habitica to build habits and accomplish personal and professional goals, which is working pretty well – though of course even effective strategies need to be re-evaluated over time no matter how motivated you are. I’ve never known anyone – students or teachers, family members or friends – for whom maintaining motivation hasn’t been a source of real struggle at some point. Not only can it be a problem for all, but I sense it’s also something that doesn’t get reflected on nearly enough – and I include myself in this.
Perhaps it’s a truism that (self-)motivation is the key to success, and that reward plays a central part in this; however, it feels to me like an issue that’s overlooked and overshadowed on a daily basis. Having taught at university for over a decade, I’ve witnessed a growing crisis of engagement – responsbility for which is borne by both teachers and students alike. To what extent this crisis stems from things like the socio-cultural shifts of the digital age or the recent formation of a so-called ‘Ps Get Degrees’ mentality is not my concern here. What I’m interested in is how authentic engagement in 21st century educational contexts comes about. To this end, I’ve recently adopted gamification as a means of encouraging online activity, and have found that explicitly and reflexively highlighting the theme of motivation and reward go hand-in-hand with this.
***Thanks to Luke Brown for his creative manipulation of the above film image, which students should note classifies as parody, but does not conform to assessment requirements – i.e. don’t do this in your own blogs!
Thinking of rewards that motivate oneself can be immensely difficult, which on the one hand seems to me very sad – even tragic – but might also be seen as an indictment of society – and its educational system. My identity as a teacher has been formed within an environment (and I’m not singling out an institution here; I’m evoking an entire industry) that expects – assumes – that sufficient motivation is (or should be) already there; that even though it’s a teacher’s ‘problem’, it shouldn’t be a teacher’s problem – and therefore not something a teacher should be providing a possible solution, or solutions, for. In many ways, effective teaching is about motivating students, but the two have also been held apart. At the same time, as mentioned above, the road sign of responsibility points both ways. The best motivation is self-motivation, and teachers can only do so much.
I could write a lot more about holding carrots before us to drive us along, but the above reflection was in large part written to introduce and contextualise the video below. My conversation with Clim Pacheco – an engineer, manager, educator and idea-preneur – is somewhat different from those that I generally film for students, but given I’ve recently designed a few units that rely on intense online collaboration, with student interactions and media-making essentially building the majority of unit content, this video also seems perfectly timed. I don’t need to explain how this chat with Clim came about – we actually discuss this toward the end – so I’ll let it speak for itself…
I’ve made a lot of important videos for students, but this one stands out as particularly crucial. Clim and I don’t talk about the subject matter of a specific unit, or even focus primarily on education, but many of the points raised seem to me essential for people to reflect on – and not only the video’s intended student audience. If you don’t want to watch us for half an hour, the following video is also available in podcast form.
Whether you watch or just listen, I strongly recommend going the whole journey.
And after you do, reward yourself!!
Further information about Clim Pacheco can be found on the website of Business Transformation Solutions.